As we see in some of Pulter’s other poems, including To Aurora 34, the desire that most interests Pulter is the soul’s desire for spiritual transcendence, not the body’s desire for earthly pleasures, often described as “clogs,” burdens, and distractions. In contrast, consider Sidney’s Astrophil, whose attempt to proceed from adoration of his beloved Stella’s beauty to love of virtue breaks down when sexual desire reasserts itself: “But ‘Ah,’ desire still cries, ‘Give me some food!’” (Astrophil and Stella, sonnet 71). In Pulter’s poem, desire still cries “Give me some death!” not as an end in itself but as the gateway to the “endless joys” of transcending the body altogether. The enjambment of the first long sentence conveys the overflow of longing and need.
Pulter uses direct address in many poems, addressing dear God in two other poems, as well as her dear daughters and dear Death. The address to God here resembles that in Psalm 55, which begins “Give ear to my prayer, O God,” and was paraphrased or translated in 1547 by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, in what many take as his last poem before Henry VIII had him executed for treason (“Give ear to my suit, Lord!”) and by both Sir Thomas Smith and John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, when they were prisoners in the Tower (The Arundel Manuscript of Tudor Poetry, ed. Ruth Hughey, 2 vols. [Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1960]). For all of these imprisoned writers, paraphrasing this psalm became a vehicle for expressing political protest as well as spiritual longing. Mary Sidney also translated it (“My God, most glad to look, most prone to hear, / An open ear, oh, let my prayer find” (The Selected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, ed. Margaret P. Hannay, Noel J. Kinnamon, and Michael G. Brennan [Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2005], 200).
Consistently depicting death as an object of desire, Pulter’s poems about death pursue a middle path between the martyr’s longing for death and a secular longing for oblivion. Even those who faced martyrdom in the vexed landscape of post-reformation England argued that one should accept but not seek martyrdom. We can find discussions of the martyr’s relation to death in John Foxe’s fervently Protestant Acts and Monuments or in Jesuit Robert Southwell’s “Epistle of Comfort” (Desiring Death in Curations). The secular longing for release and oblivion is most famously captured in a later poem, Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” (1819): “for many a time / I have been half in love with easeful Death, / . . . . / Now more than ever seems it rich to die, / To cease upon the midnight with no pain.” Pulter desires death but not martyrdom; she seeks to “obliviate” the distractions and sufferings of life but not to achieve oblivion in itself. Pulter shares this relationship to death—longing for but not seeking it, depending on it as a waystation but not as an end in itself—with other religious poets across the doctrinal spectrum in the seventeenth century. For example, Richard Crashaw, a convert to Catholicism, articulates a “desire of death” in “A Song”; in “Death,” Anglican George Herbert claims that, since Christ’s crucifixion, death is grown “Much in request, much sought for as a good” (see “Desiring Death” in Curations for both poems).